A Call To Action

There is a reason people say “They don’t make great movies anymore” For me, it’s because it has been proven time and again that people like the familiar, which is fine, but it reaches a point to which people watch the same thing over and over again to the point where we watch for the entity and not the story. That is a creative killer.

Hoverever, recently I have seen some blockbuster movies that have squashed the mundane expectations that major film companies have benchmarked themselves for so long. I want this to continue but I don’t have any power to change that. Only the people can.

The last month and a half have been the best period for movies in the last sixteen months of reviewing movies by a country mile. I have had entire months without a single excellent movie (four stars or more). In the last five weeks, I have seen five excellent movies in a row. They are:

1. Spiderman Homecoming
2. Baby Driver
3. Dunkirk
4. War of the Planet of the Apes
5. The Big Sick

For me, to watch two excellent movies in a row is rare. To watch 5 has been unprecedented. To see two movies in a row that have gotten 4.75 stars from me is unreal.

I don’t rate movies on a bell curve. I call it like it is. I was wondering if it was just me and my positivity influencing these unusually high ratings. That is until I saw a video by the Double Toasted Podcast (Who have reviewed movies for a lot longer than I have) and they came to the consensus that this short period was the best period of watching movies they have had in the last several years.

I personally don’t know if this is going to be a recurring pattern but I hope it is. In the last month, these movies have curbed a lot of their vapid, uninspired movie making and have either gone for a stripped back approach, (The Big Sick) a reinvention, (Dunkirk) classic fun, (Spiderman Homecoming and Baby Driver) or a bit of everything (War of the Planet of the Apes)

Each one of these movies is completely different, memorable and engaging in their own way and that is when movies start to hit the stratosphere. To do that, a movie must take its chances to become either a great film or a film that burns to ashes.

If 2016 was any indicator to me, the movie industry was not willing to take that chance. Ultimately, they knew that to protect their investment these businesses they turned to advertising and repeated the same old formulas that get tiresome after awhile. This is where you, the reader, come in.

Movie industries (As well as any other industry) care about the money you make. They (like any other industry) fear it when a wave of people complain about their crappy product. With preview screenings, creative decision-making and statistics by their side, the movie industry listens intently. So it’s up to you to make a response.

I hope people these days want a new twist, something that is different that you don’t expect. It does not have to be a completely original or unheard of idea, but maybe go for a movie that has that’s familiar but a little bit different creatively. The above movies, aside from Dunkirk are not reinventions but old stories told in a new light.

Movie studios will only keep making these excellent movies if you the consumer ask for it. And I am behind that. It is easy to stay in the comfort zone of familiarity in movies but that gets old really fast. My advice: Don’t fear excellence, embrace it. To paraphrase from Field of Dreams “If you demand it: The movie studios will come”

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Atomic Blonde

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After watching Atomic Blonde I realized that David Leitch the director does a fantastic job at choreographing action sequences. As for telling an interesting and coherent story, he did not in this cinematic venture. The only reason Atomic Blonde gets a pass mark is that the action sequences are jaw droppingly amazing

Then I did a little bit of research and realized that David Leitch has been a professional stuntman for twenty years. That explained everything to me after seeing such a movie like Atomic Blonde. I have no doubt that Leitch will be known for his great action sequences because that alone got me through his convoluted storytelling.

The story is the formulaic “manhunt for the secret document that could put the world in jeopardy” cliche. I would not have minded this had a movie like Atomic Blonde but it’s own spin on the idea. Instead, you get many characters who work for different government agencies (MI6, CIA, Stazi, French agents, Drug lords etc.) and by the final third act, they betray each other so frequently that it would take a rocket scientist to untangle all the betrayals and deceits. To top it all off, There are even multiple characters who are proud of “deceiving the deceiver”. My head was spinning with confusion.

If there is anything that is salvageable in the movie it is the cinematography and action sequences. Atomic Blonde is shot like it was an entrant at some youth art-house film festival. There are a half dozen matching cuts, the camera is slowly rotating up and down and side to side and the colors are both oversaturated and sketchy. While that is a turn off in most instances, Atomic Blonde makes these shots work

What drives Atomic Blonde home though is the action sequences. They are violent, brutal, seamless and inventive all at once. The best action sequence was a seamless long take that takes place in a staircase. The bad guys don’t go down with one punch, making them legit badasses and a real threat in the movie.

So if I were you I would get a rental or watch it online and just skip to all the action sequences. If lesbian scenes are your thing there are a couple of love scenes in which Charlize Theron and Sofia Boutella passionately make out in their perfect lingerie. Atomic Blonde is an exercise in style for style’s sake that works on style alone. Expect there is no sense in the story. Even London has Fallen had more sense in it’s story. ⭐⭐⭐

The Big Sick Review

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The Big Sick is all about people, real people. In an era where movie tries to sell a fantasy or the surreal, The Big Sick that takes places in the here and now and embraces it. This makes all these characters relatable, a story that’s believable and has an authenticity that caught me by a pleasant surprise. I was in awe watching this movie for long stretches of time.

The story about Kumil (Kumail Nanjiani) a Pakistani man who falls in love with a white girl and the relationship becomes complicated quickly with a clash of cultures as Kamul comes from a Muslim family and worries about telling his parents about his relationship. When his girlfriend is hospitalized from a bad disease that leaves her comatose, he is forced to connect with her parents (played by Ray Romero and Holly Hunter) and his own parents to try and make these new relationships work.

The Big Sick is a comedy movie that deals with a story that is very real in the lives of people, yet finds the tricky balance of adding humor without trivializing the story. Throughout the movie, Kumul lies to people to either impress others or for fear that his family would reject him. This leads into some funny and sticky situations at the same time. This includes some unique stand-up performances and Kumul having to try and warm up to his girlfriend’s parents in the most unlikely and awkward situations.

Ray Romero and Holly Hunter committed to their roles to an unusual yet welcoming amount of depth. Their interactions with Kumul and each other are worth the watch. Romero’s character is a simple, softly spoken man while Hunter’s character is a complex, outspoken woman but they both care about their family and both are willing to fight for it. So does Kumil. It’s so refreshing to see so many characters like their take stances even when they fear the worst. How they treat Kumal is both interesting and fascinating to watch.

The main deterrent to The Big Sick is the length. It is a 90-minute movie that went on for 2 hours. A lot of movies made or produced by Apatow are like this and I don’t know why. Everything needed to be said in The Big Sick is told in 90 minutes and the rest of the movie is like a game of emotional keepaway. The last half hour is not bad whatsoever but it just does it build up from the great material the movie offers in the first 90 minutes.

Still, the length does not take away the fact that The Big Sick is a great film about a real person who wants his old and new family to come together knowing that it’s easier said than done. I don’t like the movie simply because it is autobiographical but because it does not shy away from it’s material that seriously affects the lives of many people. Many other movies wouldn’t have the courage. That is hard enough in a drama, let alone a romantic comedy. ⭐⭐⭐⭐3/4

War of the Planet of the Apes- Wow!

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War of the Planet of the Apes is one of the best films of 2017. It intends no less than to go for broke and reap the rewards. It is a movie determined to go out with a spectacular bang and boy is this movie strong in that aspect. This movie is so brilliant that it has a good chance of being the best blockbuster that I see in 2017.

Why is War of the Planet of the Apes so fantastic? It masters the basics requirements of what makes a great movie. It has great action, special effects, characters, and drama. Most blockbusters can barely get one of these things right let alone all four.

What glues all four of these cinematic aspects together is a great story about the ape Caesar (Andy Serkis) wanting revenge against a ravenous Colonial (Woody Harrelson) seeking to kill apes whom he believes caused a virus, leaving humans with the inability to speak. The tension rises when the Colonial hatred starts to reflect Caesar’s and aims to consume him. The moral complexity ensues from there which makes this film so great above all that made the movie great.

This film is both, equally, about understanding and misunderstanding. This is why I don’t consider Woody Harrelson’s as a fully-fledged villain. He kills apes as he believes it stops spreading a terrible disease. His actions come off as hateful but his intentions do not. It’s within his interpretation of a crisis situation that causes the pain and misery that festers throughout the film which is the inability to understand that the apes are not savages.

From this story, you can see how much influence Apocalypse Now had on this movie. There even graffiti that says “Ape-pocalypse now” sprawled across an underground wall. My favorite movie last year was also inspired by that same movie but War of the Planet of the Apes is a more hopeful film, a film that has the epic feel to it. This movie does not back away from the brutality and pain but it does remind you there are sparks of hope along the way.

This movie ultimately shows us the consequences of condemning things that we do not understand. We can fear the unknown but we have no right to judge it. This movie actually reminded me of how AIDs victims in the 80’s were societal outcasts because humans feared they could get the disease through touch. Then I looked online and people have compared it to many other historical events like the Holocaust and slavery. Ultimately, War of the Planet of the Apes is a great story combined with a brilliant spectacle. It shows the best of a blockbuster in an era where normally the blockbuster is mundane. ⭐⭐⭐⭐3/4

Spiderman’s Homecoming

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Spiderman lives up to the hype that seems to come with most Marvel installments. There are several cool action sequences in addition to some good acting and storytelling. All of this makes it fun to watch. With the exception of a couple of surprising moments, Spiderman Homecoming is exactly what you would expect.

Spiderman Homecoming starts off with a teenage Peter Parker/Spiderman (Tom Holland) being told to resolve minor disturbances in the city by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) believing that Parker is not ready to be an Avenger. That is until Spiderman sees a superweapons deal taking place that will lead him to a superweapons-like cartel led by Vulture (Michael Keaton) to which Spiderman feels he needs to stop.

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I wonder how Keaton got the part to play Vulture? I’ll ponder that thought.

What Spiderman Homecoming nails is the performances more than anything else. Holland does nail portraying a teenage Peter Parker who does play it an overly optimistic way that is (somehow) charming. Keaton has a great scene stealer that gave me a hearty chuckle and works best when he plays detective more so than a villain. The newcomer Jacob Batalon who plays Ned, Peter’s best friend also surprised me as well.

The second greatest thing about Spiderman Homecoming is the coming of age story that evolves throughout the second half. On paper, the story is standard and unoriginal but I loved the execution of it. Spiderman Homecoming is the old “If your nothing with X, then you are nothing without X” that places Parker as the awkward adolescent that fights with his overzealous ambitions that go with being an adolescent.

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My favourite scene in the entire movie occours in Keaton’s car

 

My favorite moment in the story occours just before the “homecoming” in which Spiderman is tested, not on a ground of combat but on a ground of morals and choices. It is a relief that those moments are not overdone with the image of the hero looking down and reflecting on the suffering and/or injustice that is seen in too many superhero movies these days.

There are little moments in Spiderman Homecoming that annoy me in which the story back peddles slightly. Moments of earned pathos and drama are unnecessarily cut off by a joke. It shows me that even great movies have safety nets, to which I want to go away. That being said, most of the jokes land when they are meant to.

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One of the more memorable moments in Spiderman: Homecoming

And yes, there are multiple action sequences that are entertaining but the most suspenseful one is set at the Washington Monument. I sometimes wonder how they filmmakers shoot these scenes sometimes. The ferry action sequence was decent, but the climatic fight on a plane nearly gave me seizures from lights flickering all over the place.

I would have said that Spiderman Homecoming was a very good film with entertaining action set pieces, acting and storytelling, but the coming-of-age story that is emphasized in the second half put the movie over the edge ⭐⭐⭐⭐1/4

 

Cars 3: Same Gear, Still Speeding

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I had a nice time watching Cars 3. The positives outweigh the negatives on this one. Yes, there are many cliches and lacks the strong emotional punch of previous Pixar installments, but Cars 3 makes up for it with storytelling that develops as the characters develop themselves.

Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) is no longer the fast one of the track as many new and improved cars are taking the tarmac. McQueen seeks the help of a car fitness instructor called Cruz Ramerez to get McQueen up to speed with the younger cars in order to reclaim the Piston Cup.

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The movie is centered on the relationship beitween Lightning McQueen and his new fitness coach Cruz Ramirez

Cars 3 is like a light-hearted escapist movie with a bit of a brain. There is a lot of races going on where McQueen and Ramerez speed around beaches, tracks, a smash-em-up derby and racing simulations. All of which is at least mildly entertaining with the brightly colored animation, dialogue, and action sequences.

Cars 3 also serves as justification in making a sequel by making the themes somewhat different. The action and the racing is similar (which I don’t mind) but the themes do involve a car learning about what he wants in his late career. It’s just a pity that there was not a satisfying payoff of that in the end. There are some decent moments but because the ideas Cars 3 dabbles in are not fully realized, Cars 3 does not separate itself from the rest of the pack.

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It’s a battle between old scool and new school and a battle of driving faster or driving smarter.

In between all of the action and ideas are some moments of humor and social satire. There a funny class between old-school fitness training with new-school fitness training. Cars 3 also satirizes sports broadcasting by the female cars giving superfluous sporting statistics and Cars 3 even makes fun of Pixar themselves turning into a cash cow franchise.

Ultimately I see Cars 3 as a movie that is firmly on the right track but lacks the courage of it’s convictions to go the distance. For another analogy: They built the car but not the road to drive on to experience the feeling of freedom. Still, it’s a pretty nice car to own. ⭐⭐⭐1/2.

 

 

 

 

Despicable Me 3 Review

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Acting ⭐⭐⭐
Build ⭐1/2
Writing:⭐⭐⭐1/4
Characters ⭐⭐3/4
Visuals: ⭐⭐⭐1/2

The Despicable Me franchise has always had it’s childish slapstick embedded into a story and it has usually worked. With Despicable Me 3, it is used as the crux and has it’s hits and misses. Because of that, Despicable me has some laughs and insightful moments, but can never fully develop them.

The story: Gru (Steve Carrell) who discovers he has a twin brother called Stu. They work together as criminals to try and take a diamond that was stolen by Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker) who is using that diamond to create a monster to destroy the world.

Illumination Entertainment knows you like the Minions so they are going to give it to you. There is a ton of kids slapstick humor with the Minions that kids will enjoy. I did not mind either until they kept doing Minion gags for what felt like forever. Eventually, I started to lose interest in the comedy as I felt it was getting stale.

After the entire first act of wacky comedy do we finally start to develop characters and eventually the plot. They try to develop characters such as Gru’s insecurities and Agnes (Gru’s youngest adoptive daughter) supposed loss of innocence but never works as well as it could have. I feel that’s because they spent so much time on action and comedic sequences that the story inadvertently falls by the wayside.

While Despicable Me 3 is a decent movie it plays so frustratingly safe that I have become somewhat disappointed in the franchise. The reason I am disappointed is that I know they can make great movies like the original. The original balanced the tones between action, comedy and drama perfectly. By the thrid time around it seems to have lost some of the substances by creating too much tiresome slapstick and little action or drama to counterbalance it ⭐⭐3/4

A Dog’s Purpose: It’s Ends :) It’s means :-|

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A Dog’s Purpose is a movie that asks the question “Does the ends justify the means?” that is because A Dog’s Purpose aims what is sets out to achieve: To make people cry. How it’s achieved is somewhat force-fed. Nevertheless, it sort-of worked.

The story is about a dog (voiced by Josh Gad) finding his reason for living and he reincarnates into other dogs when he (sometimes “she”) dies and gathers little life lessons along the way.

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I like sugar just not by itself. A Dog’s Purpose is sugar. At least it’s not shit.

A Dog’s Purpose is the equivalent of a kid constantly cheating to win a game in which he succeeds in doing. It’s a TV movie mixed with Marley and Me. A Dog’s Purpose was straining my emotional investment by using its surgery sweetness and fabricated charm to manipulate me into believing this film is amazing.

For instance, they re-recycled some of the oldest heart-pulling tricks imaginable in the movie For sad scenes, they either prolong the death with music drenched in melancholy or they show the owner in emotional pain while the music is drenched in melancholy.

For happy scenes, it shows the dog gleefully galloping up the hills of the farm to which there is a sunset glistening on the horizon. Or the dog falls in love with a bigger dog which coincided with a romantic relationship between the owners. This movie was so insanely predictable I was surprised that the audience around me was surprised when the various payoffs occur.

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This scene with Dennis Quaid was one of the few scenes I really liked

Nevertheless, the movie sort of works because I was feeling the effects. I have a dog and that probably made me empathize with the movie more, yet I was not fully into its shameless ways of getting me to care. In that sense, A Dog’s Purpose reminded me of the disastrous saccharine that was Mother’s Day but admittedly, A Dog’s Purpose is miles better than Mother’s Day simply because it achieves what it sets out to achieve: To make viewers cry.

So again, I asked myself the question “Does the ends justify its means?”

My answer is “not really”. I always believed in a movie that the ending itself does not matter but how the movie gets to the ending and how well executed the ending is.

Although points do go to the innocent intentions of the movie and it does try to send a positive message without being in any way shocking, sarcastic, ironic or overly negative. I actually somewhat appreciate it’s willingness and defiance to tell the story how they like it. I may not agree with it, but I harbor no animosity for it like I would for a bad movie. ⭐⭐

P.S. I don’t care about the story of supposed animal cruelty angle TMZ showed. This review has nothing to do with it. PETA fell for that news story. TMZ deliberately misrepresented the story for a rating. They succeeded but do their ends justify their means?

Land of Mine- A Suspenseful War flick

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Land of Mine is a Danish film that was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and after watching it I completely understand why. Rich in suspense, satisfying payoffs, and both story and character development leads to something that is both simultaneously harrowing and life affirming. This might make my top 10 films of 2017 list.

Set immediately after the Norwegian reoccupation of their country after World War 2, Land of Mine follows the story between a division of German teenage boys and their new Danish Sargent Carl Leopold Rasmussen (Roland Møller) as they clear more than two million mines on the shores of Norway.

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The first time one of the many inexperienced Germans are defusing their first mine. You can only imagine how suspenseful this was watching his fate unfold.

What shines through in Land of Mine is how empathy and understanding inside humanity break the banners of both national pride and near demonic hatred that try to consume it. We get that in the first scene of the movie in which Sargent Rasmussen spots one of the surrendered Germans holding a Danish flag and he beats him bloody while screaming “You don’t own this flag!” as he has internalized resentment from the years of German occupation. The division he gains are the teenage boys, who are barely trained in mine defusion. However, slowly but surely the sergeant begins to care for their suffering in an environment where they were seen as a commodity for defusing mines and a liability when they make one fatal mistake.

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Rolland Moller has such a great balance for this character. He is imposing, sympathetic, and even when he is vulnerable he plays it with confidence.

Beyond the valley of great storytelling and humanity, Land of Mine works as a suspenseful thriller. Great war and horror movies will suck you in by evoking suspense instead of showing the slash scene because the chase is better than the catch in life. In addition to that, Land of Mine has several scenes in which mines detonate. Only one of them I expected. There are several tropes in movies for which I expected Lane of Mine to fall under in terms when a mine would detonate. Only once was I not caught off guard. This movie was just so engrossing on the suspense level.
When the great acting and character development on both the sergeant and the various German boys coupled with the suspense of it all, Land of Mine turns into something special. It’s crazy that war movies, on the whole, are so creative in my opinion that Land of Mine is barely visible of the top tiers of war movies. That’s is fantastic for the war genre. Lane of Mine is a great film and yet I can count several war movies that are better on the top of my head. That is not a negative criticism but an observation. Land of Mine was just an absorbing suspenseful experience. This is the first great film I have seen in over a month and movies like Land Of Mine keep me motivated as I find diamonds in the rough once more ****1/2

The Fate of The Furious: Still chugging along

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They say you cannot judge a book by it’s cover. They never said you can’t judge a movie by promotional picture!

The Fate of The Furious is one-upping itself by having bigger action set pieces than ever before. There are cars that topple over a multi-story parking lot like tears in the rain, five cars trying to hog tie another car, there is a car race were one of those cars was on fire and a goddamn submarie break thes ice of the Russain freaking ocean chasing our heroes. None of which is a spoiler because either 1. They happen early on or 2. They revealed them in the trailer.

The reason I describe the movie like that is simply for this one notion:

What more did you expect from this franchise?

Despite the enthusastic tone, let’s not be mistaken, The Fate of the Furious is an unsurprising, middle of the road film. To continue this car analogy, this installment of the franchise is the pitstop. A 1 billion dollar pitstop, but a pitstop nonetheless. At least it was not the car crash of the franchise. The pitstop isn’t a bad place to be but it isn’t running the laps. That’s because this movie was a hit and miss: some action scenes worked, others were too ridiculous. There is a story in it that darting around, but at least there is a story to this movie. If you are a fan of the franchise, you will like this because The Fate of the Furious keeps chugging along rain, hail or shine.

The Positives: The story and the Script

The plot: Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) goes rogue because the antagonist Cipher (Charlize Theron) has something on him and uses that to her advantage and Toretto helps her against his will to implement her own plans (and to the horror of his “family”).

There is a reason I mention the plot and that’s because it’s somewhat important. Yes, in movies as a whole, that’s a given but in action movies not so much. A prime example of bad storytelling being xXx The Return of Xander Cage in which the story was so aimless, scattershot and boring that it became laughable. The Fate of the Furious actually has some restraint in what it shows in terms of keeping the plot together as it kept me focused on the story which is a relief.

The other thing that was restrained was the script. It wasn’t cringeworthy like I have heard in most action movies. They only mention the word “family” thirteen times (I predicted twice the amount and it being more explicit than subtle). Therefore I consider it a success. The script isn’t Shakespeare but it doesn’t have to be. The funniest lines occur when Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson) has a hang up that he didn’t make it to the ten most wanted list whereas the other friends did (conveniently, he was number 11). So the movie was salvageable in the script department as well.

Furiously Burning the Budget: The Action Sequences

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The picture totally doesn’t make me the think of the song “America, Fuck Yeah” from Team America World Police

What was not restrained was the action sequences. That was exactly what I expected. They normally started off by being cool and/or clever but then change gears and amp up the ridiculousness. A prime example is an opening scene where Dominic races a Cuban with a poorly run car that he soups up at the last minute. During the race, the engine catches on fire while he is neck and neck.

That was fun. I have seen it before, but it was still fun.

Then the engine combusts and the flames obscure Dominic’s vision so he decided to finish (and win the race) by driving backwards while the crowd is cheering that a flaming car is racing toward them.

That was dumb.

To be honest, Fate of the Furious was mildly interesting throughout. It is certainly not the best in the franchise (that was Fast Five for me) but it is certainly not the worst (The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift). It aimed to be the biggest action film of the year in terms of sheer scale and yet I didn’t feel that way. In terms of money at the box office, that is a real possibility. **3/4